In terms of its grammatical structures, Romani is conservative in maintaining almost intact the Middle Indo-Aryan present-tense person concord markers, and in maintaining consonantal endings for nominal case – both features that have been eroded in most other modern languages of Central India. It shares an innovative pattern of past-tense person concord with the languages of the Northwest, such as Kashmiri and Shina. This is believed to be further proof that Romani originated in the Central region, then migrated to the Northwest. Characteristic for Romani is the fusion of postpositions of the second Layer (or case marking clitics) to the nominal stem, and the emergence of external tense morphology that attaches to the person suffix. All of these features are shared between Romani and Domari, which has prompted much discussion about the relationships between these two languages.
The Romani language is sometimes considered a group of dialects or a collection of related languages that comprise all the members of a single genetic subgroup.
While the language is nowhere official, there are attempts currently aimed at the creation of a standard language out of all variants (such as those from Romania, the USA, Sweden). Also, different variants of the language are now in the process of being codified in those countries with high Roma populations (for example, Slovakia).
However, research carried out already in the nineteenth century by Pott (1845) and Miklosich (1882-1888) showed this to be unlikely. The Romani language proves to be a New Indo-Aryan language (NIA), not a Middle Indo-Aryan (MIA), as it would have to be to fit Firdausi's scheme. The principal argument favouring a migration during or after the transition period to NIA is the loss of the old system of nominal case, and its reduction to just a two-way case system, nominative vs. oblique. A secondary argument concerns the system of gender differentiation. Romani has only two genders (masculine and feminine). Middle Indo-Aryan languages (named MIA) generally had three genders (masculine, feminine and neuter), and some modern Indo-Aryan languages retain this old system even today. It is argued that loss of the neuter gender did not occur until the transition to NIA. Most of the neuter nouns became masculine while a few feminine, like the neuter अग्नि (agni) in the Prakrit became the feminine आग (āg) in Hindi and jag in Romani. The parallels in grammatical gender evolution between Romani and other NIA languages have been cited as evidence that the forerunner of Romani remained in the Indian Subcontinent until a later period, perhaps even as late as the tenth century.
There are no historical proofs to clarify who the ancestors of the Roma were or what motivated them to emigrate from the Indian subcontinent, but there are various theories. The influence of the Greek language (and to a lesser extent of the Iranian languages, like Persian, Kurdish and of the Armenian language), points to a prolonged stay in Anatolia after the departure from South Asia.
The Mongol invasion of Europe beginning in the first half of the thirteenth century triggered another westward migration. The Roma arrived in Europe and afterwards spread to the other continents. The great distances between the scattered Roma groups led to the development of local community distinctions. The differing local influences have greatly affected the modern language, splitting it into a number of different (originally exclusively regional) dialects.
Today Romani is spoken by small groups in 42 European countries A project at Manchester University in England is transcribing Romani dialects, many of which are on the brink of extinction, for the first time.
A long-standing common categorisation was a division between the Vlax (from Vlach) from non-Vlax dialects. Vlax are those Roma who lived many centuries in the territory of Romania. The main distinction between the two groups is the degree to which their vocabulary is borrowed from Romanian. Vlax-speaking groups account for the greatest number of speakers (between half and two-thirds of all Romani speakers). Bernard Gilliath-Smith first made this distinction, and coined the term Vlax in 1915 in the book The Report on the Gypsy tribes of North East Bulgaria. Subsequently, other groups of dialects were recognized, primarily based on geographical and vocabulary criteria, including:
In the past several decades, some scholars have worked out a categorisation of Romani dialects from a linguistic point of view on the basis of historical evolution and isoglosses. Much of this work was carried out by Bochum-based linguist Norbert Boretzky, who pioneered the systematic plotting of structural features of Romani dialects onto geographical maps. This culminated in an Atlas of Romani Dialects, co-authored with Birgit Igla, which appeared in 2005 and plots numerous isoglosses onto maps. At the University of Manchester, similar work has been carried out by linguist and former Romani-rights activist Yaron Matras, and his associates. Together with Viktor Elšík (now of Charles University, Prague), Matras compiled the Romani Morpho-Syntax database, which is the largest compilation of data on the dialects of Romani. Parts of this database can be accessed online via the webpage of the Manchester Romani Project. Matras (2002, 2005) has argued for a theory of geographical classification of Romani dialects, which is based on the diffusion in space of innovations. According to this theory, Early Romani (as spoken in the Byzantine Empire) was brought to western and other parts of Europe through population migrations of Rom in the 14th-15th centuries. These groups settled in the various European regions during the 16th and 17th centuries, acquiring fluency in a variety of contact languages. Changes emerged then, which spread in wave-like patterns, creating the dialect differences attested today. According to Matras, there were two major centres of innovations: some changes emerged in western Europe (Germany and vicinity), spreading eastwards; other emerged in the Wallachian area, spreading to the west and south. In addition, many regional and local isoglosses formed, creating a complex wave of language boundaries. Matras points to the prothesis of j- in aro > jaro 'egg' and ov > jov 'he' as typical examples of west-to-east diffusion, and of addition of prothetic a- in bijav > abijav as a typical east-to-west spread. His conclusion is that dialect differences formed in situ, and not as a result of different waves of migration.
In a series of articles (beginning from 1982), Marcel Courthiade proposed a different kind of classification. He concentrates on the dialectal diversity of Romani in three successive strata of expansion, using the criteria of phonological and grammatical changes. Finding the common linguistic features of the dialects, he presents the historical evolution from the first stratum (the dialects closest to the Anatolian Romani of the 13th century) to the second and third strata. He also names as "pogadialects" (after the Pogadi dialect from Great Britain) those which have only a Romani vocabulary grafted into a non-Romani language.
A table of some dialectal differences:
|First stratum||Second stratum||Third stratum|
|phirdom, phirdyom phirdyum, phirjum||phirdem||phirdem|
|guglipe(n)/guglipa guglibe(n)/gugliba||guglipe(n)/guglipa guglibe(n)/gugliba||guglimos|
| pani khoni|
| pai, payi khoi, khoyi|
| pai, payi khoi, khoyi|
The first stratum includes the oldest dialects: Mechkari, Kabuji, Xanduri, Drindari, Erli, Arli, Bugurji, Mahajeri, Ursari (Rićhinari), Spoitori (Xoraxane), Karpatichi, Polska Roma, Kaale (from Finland), Sinto-manush, and the so-called Baltic dialects.
In the second there are Chergari, Gurbeti, Jambashi, Fichiri, Filipiji and a subgroup of the Vlax dialects of Romania and Bulgaria.
The third comprises the rest of the so-called Vlax dialects, including Kalderash, Lovari, Machvano.
A standardized form of Romani is used in Serbia, and in Serbia's autonomous province of Vojvodina Romani is one of the officially recognized languages of minorities having its own radio stations and news broadcasts.
In Romania, the country with the largest identifiable Roma population, there is a unified teaching system of the Romani language for all dialects spoken in the country. This is primarily a result of the work of Gheorghe Sarău, who made Romani textbooks for teaching Roma children in the Romani language. He teaches a purified, mildly prescriptive language, choosing the original Indo-Aryan words and grammatical elements from various dialects. The pronunciation is mostly like that of the dialects from the first stratum. When there are more variants in the dialects, the variant that most closely resembles the oldest forms is chosen, like byav instead of abyav, abyau, akana instead of akanak, shunav instead of ashunav or ashunau, etc.
An effort is also made to derive new words from the vocabulary already in use, i.e., xuryavno (airplane), vortorin (slide rule), palpaledikhipnasko (retrospectively), pashnavni (adjective). There is an ever-changing set of borrowings from Romanian as well, including such terms as vremea (weather, time), primariya (town hall), frishka (cream), sfïnto (saint, holy). Sanskrit-based neologisms include bijli (bulb, electricity), misal (example), chitro (drawing, design), lekhipen (writing), while there are also English-based neologisms, like printisarel < "to print", prezidento < "president".
Language standardization is presently also being employed in the revival of the Romani language among various groups (in Spain, Great Britain, and elsewhere), which have ceased to speak the language. In these cases, a specific dialect is not revived, but rather a standardized form derived from many dialects is learned.
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||40,000||90%|
|Republic of Macedonia||215,000||90%|
|Serbia and Montenegro||380,000||90%|
|Sad san?||How are you?|
|So kedes?||What are you doing?|
|Pachave tut||Thank you.|
|Naj pala soste!||You're welcome!|
|Katar aves?||Where are you from?|
|Sar buchhos tuke? / So si tjiro nav?||What's your name?|
|Me buchhov man o ...||My name is... (masc.)|
|Me buchhov man e ...||My name is... (fem.)|
|Miro nav si o/e...||My name is... (alternative)|
|Tjiri familija si vi tusa?||Is your family with you?|
|Kaj djas?||Where are you going?|
|Chi pachave tut||I don't understand you|
|Hacheres man?||Do you understand me?|
|T'aves mansa||Come with me|
|Ava kari||Come here|